Not Your Usual Carbonara
Yes, this one’s quite different.
And sure to become an instant classic.
“Pumpkin Carbonara with Paccheri” has no bacon. But you won’t miss it. Honest.
That’s because thin slices of onion are slowly caramelized until their golden char takes on a smokiness that almost mimics that of bacon.
Take your time cooking the onions. Don’t rush them. Be patient, because they are key to this simple, exquisite pasta dish.
The recipe is from the clever new cookbook, “Pasta Modern” (Stewart Tabori & Chang), which was gifted to me by its author, food historian and Italian food expert, Francine Segan, whom I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with after doing some writing for her.
The book includes 100 recipes, many of them quite unusual ones that will open your eyes to the uses pasta can have if you let your imagination go wild. How about “Pasta Sushi”? Yes, big shells, the kind usually stuffed with ricotta and spinach, but here filled with raw fish, sea urchin or salmon roe. Or consider the method of boiling pasta in a pot of water mixed with cocoa powder for “Instant Chocolate Pasta with Orange-Basil Cream,” in which the noodles turn deep brown and take on an earthy flavor? Or “Pasta Pretzel Sticks” made from cooked, long strands of pasta that are coated in butter before being baked until golden and crisp?
As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that this carbonara isn’t like the rest. It hails from the central and southern Italy. It includes an abundance of tender, sweet pumpkin. Feel free to use kabocha or butternut, the latter being my choice. It also makes use of fat, thick pasta tubes known as paccheri rather than spaghetti strands. When cooking this type of substantial noodle, do be sure to stir them frequently as they cook in the pot of water because they have a tendency to stick otherwise.
When ready, toss the hot pasta with beaten egg yolks fortified with grated Parmesan to create a creamy sauce that clings to each and every noodle. Add a tablespoon or two of reserved pasta water to loosen it up a bit, if you like. Stir in the onion and pumpkin mixture, then shower with salty, nutty Pecorino — and voila — dinner is ready just like that.
This is a dish that really makes you appreciate how just a few stellar ingredients can come together to create perfect pasta harmony.
Pumpkin Carbonara with Paccheri
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups diced, seeded and peeled kabocha or butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg yolks
Pecorino or other aged cheese
1 pound paccheri or any short, thick pasta
In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons oil and cook the onions until they are very soft, about 8 minutes. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until the onions are golden and caramelized, about 4 minutes more. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add another 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil, and fry the squash until tender and golden at the edges, about 8 minutes. Return onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and keep warm.
In a large serving bowl, beat the yolks with pepper and 2 heaping tablespoons grated cheese.
Boil the pasta in salted water until it is al dente. Reserve a little of the pasta cooking water. Drain and toss pasta in the egg mixture, stirring until creamy, and adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking water, if needed. Stir in the hot onion-squash mixture. Serve topped with grated or shaved cheese.
Adapted from “Pasta Modern” by Francine Segan
Another Unique Francine Segan Recipe: Cantaloupe Cake